Riley Aerodigestive team credited with saving Sawyer

September 4, 2020
Topics: Riley Kid Story, About Us

Aerodigestive Blog Full Size 2020.09.04

Even before Sawyer Vargo-Moran turned a month old, his mother knew there was something wrong. After every feeding, he was unable to hold down his formula. “I knew that spitting up was normal with babies,” Abbie Vargo recalls. “But with Sawyer, it was immediately after every feeding, or an hour or three hours.” The Mishawaka mom took Sawyer to a doctor in South Bend who fitted him with a nasogastric (NG) tube, but Sawyer progressively lost weight and developed breathing difficulties. She sought out a second opinion, and her pediatrician referred Sawyer to Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis. Upon reviewing Sawyer’s medical background, the health care team admitted him immediately.

Doctors determined Sawyer no longer needed a feeding tube and likely never should have. “The tube actually made his airways worse,” says Abbie. “He had scar tissue from putting the tube down the throat. It was a relief they were able to take the tube out.”

Sawyer was referred to the Riley Aerodigestive Program, where a team of doctors worked to narrow the origins of his illness. As doctors ran tests, Riley provided the family a Flovent inhaler and nebulizer to ease his breathing struggles. “Because of his age, they weren’t able to do all the tests that they wanted to do, because putting a baby that young under all of that - it wasn’t good for him.” When Sawyer turned six months old, extensive testing determined Sawyer had inflammation buildup in his lungs and his airways. “When they got the bronchoscopy results, they realized it had nothing to do with his ear, nose or throat. It had nothing to do with his digestive system. He was diagnosed with reactive airway disease.”

The continuous treatment led to improvement. “The treatments were working. Our plan in December of 2019 was to eventually wean him off the inhaler,” said Abbie. With reactive airway disease “his airways are weaker than a normal person. Our hope is, as he gets bigger and older that his airways will become stronger, but it’s not a guarantee.”

With an appointment at Riley set for March of 2020, the world went on hold. “Unfortunately, due to COVID, we weren’t able to visit.” Then Sawyer was diagnosed with COVID-19. “We were quarantined for 27 days,” said Abbie. “Thank God that Riley gave me the inhaler and nebulizer because that was the one thing I could do to help him breathe, since COVID directly affects your airways.” Abbie says next to Sawyer’s respiratory problems, COVID was the second hardest thing she had to deal with. “I definitely thought I was going to lose him at that point.”

Sawyer recovered from COVID and Abbie says he is now a completely different child. “He is so much healthier. We don’t rely on the inhaler anymore. So, the treatment and plans Riley gave us definitely worked. He’s not fussy, he’s not tired, he’s not wheezing and that’s the thing. I feel in my own heart, if I had not gotten Sawyer down there, I don’t think he would have survived past a year old.”

Abbie says Sawyer has spent at least 20 days at Riley Hospital since their first visit. Aside from his treatment, Abbie says she is struck by the care that came from doctors, nurses and the entire medical team. “I was impressed by how open and honest all of the doctors were. They were just so informative but so supportive at the same time. If they had to take Sawyer from me for a test, another doctor would sit with me during the entire thing and reassure me that Sawyer is going to be okay. It was just like open arms. It wasn’t like it was a job to them. It was almost like, as soon as they admitted us, they were my family.”

Abbie says she is especially grateful to Riley Pediatric Pulmonologist Heather Muston, M.D., and Riley Aerodigestive Clinic Coordinator Karen McCarthy, RN. “If it weren’t for Dr. Muston and our patient coordinator Karen, I don’t know if Sawyer would even be where he is at now. They saved him and I couldn’t be more blessed to have them. I don’t know what other team of doctors would ever do that for a family. It’s been an amazing experience. I couldn’t be more thankful to have them on our side.”

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The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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